Secondary Keywords: How to Target Two Phrases on One Page

Pages rank higher in Google when they are tightly focused on a single topic. It’s unlikely that one page will rank high for a dozen phrases. So if we expect to rank, we need to pick a phrase and create a great page on that topic.

But what about just two phrases? Can we optimize a page for a primary and secondary keyword? Yes. Here’s a guide to targeting secondary keywords.

As a rising tide lifts all boats, strategic optimization for a secondary keyword phrase can lift your content’s visibility and rank.

1. Look for overlapping words.

Ideally, the two keyphrases share words. Even better, the primary keyword is a subset of the secondary keyword. Here are some examples:

  • Bad: “Social media for beginners” and “Twitter tips”

These phrases may share a meaning, but they don’t share any words.

  • Good: “How to research keywords” and “Keyword research tips”

These two phrases both share two words, keyword and research, but the words appear in different order within the phrases.

  • Better: “Google Authorship markup” and “Google Authorship”

Here, the second phrase is contained within the first phrase. One phrase is really just a more specific version of the other.

2. Look for semantics and synonyms.

You’re not done researching a keyword until you’ve actually searched for it in Google. When you do that search, you’ll see the keyword bolded in the search results. Look closely and you may find words you didn’t search for, bolded in those same search results.

Google engineers call this “latent semantic indexing.” Google is showing pages that include words that are semantically linked to the words for which you search. Often, they’re actual synonyms.

For example, a search for “search engine optimization” will show you search results with the word “SEO” bolded in some listings.

secondary keywords in google results

When you notice these words, it’s a sign that you can target both words, even if you’re just using one of them. Now you know that you can target a secondary keyword that shares the same meaning as the primary keyword, even if the actual words aren’t the same.

3. Add internal links using both phrases.

Once you’ve finished your keyword research and written the page with proper SEO best practices, it’s time to go live! But there’s a final step in the process: creating links to the page.

Yes, Google may think you’re a spammer if all the links to a given page include the exact text of the target keyphrase. This kind of over-optimization led to penalties for many websites in 2012. But if you haven’t been doing hard-core SEO, you probably don’t have many “exact match keyword links,” so I recommend the following:

Find other pages on your site (or older posts in your blog) that mention the topic of your new page. You can do this by searching through your own site on Google. Just search for “ [topic/keyword].” You’ll soon be looking at a list of pages that are candidates for internal links to the new page.

If there are at least two, create one link to the new page using the primary keyword as the text in the link. Create another link on another page using the secondary keyword. Each link is an indication of relevance to Google. Two links containing two phrases from two different pages will indicate relevance of the page for both phrases.

Pro tip: Links from other websites are always stronger indications of relevance. Look for opportunities to guest blog on other websites and write posts related to your page. When some of these guest posts link using the primary keyword and other posts link using the secondary keyword, you’re indicating relevance for both phrases!

Watch Your Rank

When targeting one more general keyword and another more specific keyword, you’re likely to find that the longer, more specific phrase is the first to rank. If it does, you may love what happens next.

The page ranks for the more specific phrase, gets visits, and maybe gets mentioned by others on their websites, which could result in new inbound links. Then, when they link to it, those links may help it rank higher for the more general phrase causing traffic to jump, then jump again.

For this to work, the content has to be really, really good.

Ultimately, the idea is to give Google evidence that your website is trustworthy, which can help everything on your domain rank a bit better. That’s what SEO is all about. Start narrow until you build up your authority. Then you can go wider. Targeting secondary keywords can make implementing that technique on a single page possible.

EDITOR’S NOTE: See our SEO Guide for direction on how to choose the best keywords and much more.

Andy Crestodina is the Strategic Director of Orbit Media, an ecommerce company in Chicago. He’s also the author of Content Chemistry, An Illustrated Guide to Content Marketing. You can find Andy on and Twitter.

See Andy's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (6)
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6 Replies to “Secondary Keywords: How to Target Two Phrases on One Page”

This strategy worked well in the past, though I can still see that the value of creating content specific to any given keyword would still have been best back then. Nowadays, though, it only makes sense to use each page to target a single keyword rather than trying to get one page to rank for multiple keywords. The exception to this is long tail keywords – you can get many of your ranking pages to rank for long tail keywords with minimal efforts!

I totally agree, I don’t think it helps with rankings having the query term in bold but I guess it does stand out.

Hi, Vijay. I’m not sure what you mean by “create two different links” but I do recommend choosing very similar phrases if you choose two, and making sure to use both phrases in your on-page SEO.

If you expect to rank for two phrases, it will have to be a deliberate effort. True, the page may rank for many phrases in the end, but if you’re really targeting phrases, be deliberate and make it count!

Actually if we analyze a page with tools/plugins like seo quake. It will show two keyword phrases, three keyword phrases etc. I think google also might to do a similar analysis when constructing key to page mapping.

Is it required to create two different links for these different keywords to target. Why cant google just do by itself?

I agree with the semantic and synonyms for your keywords that they can be the secondary keyword. But in essence when you write the article you focus on one keyword. And as you mentioned as a bad example: “Social media for beginners” and “Twitter tips”. It’s not productive to make your article rank for two totally different keywords.


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